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On today’s edition of The Verdict, we’ll introduce you to one of the most famous Louisiana politicians of all time, Senator Huey Long. Here’s a look at some of the highlights of his political career.
Huey Long was born in 1893 in Winn Parish, which at the time, was one of the poorest parishes in Louisiana—which makes it one of the poorest places in all the United States. That does not mean that he grew up in a poor family. His father owned a lot of land and actually was somewhat of a business developer after the railroad came through Winn Parish and created the town of Winfield. So, he grew up in what we would today consider middle-class—if not upper middle-class—circumstances.
Dropped out of high school, so he never finished high school. Spent some time as a traveling salesman as a teenager. Ultimately went to Tulane Law School and graduated from there in a year. Now, he went to law school without having graduated high school and never attending college. That gives you a sense of the kind of intelligence, but also the kind of persuasive skills that Huey Long had.
And in 1918, he set off on his political career. He had told various people at the time that he planned on winning a regional office, then winning a statewide office, then winning a national office, and ultimately becoming president. But in 1918, he won his first office. It was a seat on the Louisiana Railroad Commission, which, in 1921 was renamed the Public Service Commission.
On his birthday in 1923, the day he turned 30, which thus made him eligible, he declared for the governorship race that was coming up in 1924. That was a race that he did not win. He simply did not have enough name recognition. He was well known in North Louisiana but was not very well known in South Louisiana.
Huey ran in the 1928 election on a platform that really emphasized class politics. In other words, he realized that if he was going to beat the big New Orleans political machine, and if he was going to beat the wealthy elites of Louisiana, the best way to do that was to unify poor people in Louisiana, and that meant most people.
The election rolls around, and Huey, on the basis of support in North Louisiana and South Louisiana outside of New Orleans, is able to put together enough of a coalition that he makes it to the runoff. And his opponent in the runoff realized he really hadn’t had a chance at that point, and he actually dropped out.
He takes control of the state legislature, he threw controlling the key committee members and chairs of committees, he gets the free textbooks, he gets road bond issues passed. Pretty much his entire platform, which is remarkable.
In 1929, he was impeached—not removed from office, but actually brought up on charges. And in 1930, he decides now he’s only been governor for two years but he decides to run for United States Senate against one of his old allies, Senator Joseph Ransdell. It’s during that 1930 Senate campaign that his political machine really comes together. He controlled about 25,000 government jobs in Louisiana. His calculation was those 25,000 jobs equate to about 125,000 votes.
The other thing he needed, of course, was money. One of the major ways that he raised that money was through what was called the deduct system. Every state employee—all those 25,000 employees of the state of Louisiana—were required to give a portion of their paycheck to Huey Long’s personal campaign treasury.
He trounces the incumbent senator, Senator Ransdell, and is awarded the Senate seat from Louisiana, one of two. Huey had had a falling out with his lieutenant governor, and that meant if he resigned as governor and took the Senate seat, then his lieutenant governor—who he really hated—would become governor himself.
And at that point, Huey feels comfortable going to Washington D.C. to be sworn in as a senator. So, with Allen in the governor’s office and Huey now in the United States Senate, he was able to do two things. One, he can still control the state of Louisiana through Oscar Allen—“OK” Allen. But two, he has a now national platform to begin making a name for himself. Remember, his ultimate goal is to become president.
We’ll conclude today’s edition of The Verdict. Don’t miss the next installment where we uncover new information about the alleged assassination of Huey Long.
This presentation of The Verdict on News 15 was brought to you by Laborde Earls Injury Lawyers.